By now, most players know that strength gym work is an essential part of being a successful athlete in high-level Ultimate. However, a lot of Ultimate athletes join the gym because they’ve been told that it’s important, but don't see improvements or have a goal in mind.
If you're serious about seeing gains on the field, your aim should be to build enough of a strength base that your body can handle more explosive movements like Olympic lifts or plyometrics*, without breaking under the extreme forces involved.
Without further ado, here are the strength thresholds I think you should be aiming to achieve before moving on to speed/power work:
Rear-leg elevated barbell split squat (RLESS) @ 1-1.5 x body weight (BW) for 5 reps
Back barbell squat @ 1.5-2 x BW for 5 reps
Trap bar or barbell deadlift @ 1.5-2 x BW for 5 reps
Single-leg straight-leg deadlift @ 0.5-1 x BW x 5 reps (this one is excellent if you commonly suffer from hamstring injuries)
Single leg calf raises @ no weight x 30 reps (excellent if you suffer lower leg injuries like shin splints. If so, pair with ‘toe raises’)
Movements: These are the three (or four) major lower body compound strength movements you should be doing for Ultimate and that will be common in most Ultimate-specific workouts available. They cover most major muscle groups in your legs and provide functional strength for our sport.
Weight: The weight goals I’ve allocated above are largely anecdotal (as we are only at the early stages of strength and conditioning research in our sport). I’ve run these thresholds past a number of prominent athletes and coaches in our sport and they agree that progressing past these numbers requires putting on more weight than is functional for our sport.
Percentage of body weight is the only true measure of strength so strength goals must be set relative to your weight. Someone who weighs 60kg will have greatly different aims to someone who weighs 80kg. So while putting on weight is a great way to generate more strength gains in the gym, this also must come with raised strength goals.
Rep range: 3-5 reps is commonly regarded as the best rep range for building strength. This is not to be confused with building muscle, where the optimum rep range is 8-12.
How to build strength to reach these goals
Gradually: Don’t think upon joining the gym that you’ll be reaching these goals within a matter of months, it could take years, but that’s fine. Initially focus on form, then look to progressively raise the weight as the movements become easier. Always look to challenge yourself when you’re feeling good. Most long-term gym programs will work in incremental increases in weight, so if that’s more your style then get into one of those.
Put on weight to gain strength: Ultimate players, especially those motivated enough to go to the gym are often very fit and as a result, often very skinny. If you’re in that boat and are struggling to achieve your desired strength gains, then consider eating more to start putting on some weight. Increased dietary intake, when combined with 3-4 gym sessions a week, can expedite the strength development process.
*‘Plyometrics’ is a popular buzzword in our sport. Defined as ‘a form of intense training that involves the use of a stretch and contraction sequence of muscle fibres to generate great strength at a high speed’, plyometric movements are an essential step to progressing your ‘strength’ into ‘power’ but can also be detrimental or even dangerous when performed without the adequate strength base.